Ana & Thomas, A Spectrum Inspired Session | Long Island Family Photographer

I began volunteering for an amazing organization called Spectrum Inspired a few months ago, and this was my first session for them. Spectrum Inspired (in their words, because they are way more eloquent than anything I could write!) "uses lifestyle photography to document a diverse group of children on the spectrum and their families across the globe in effort to normalize and destigmatize ASD. It is our mission to give families a platform to voice their struggles, celebrate their victories and share their story; all the while, removing the stigma and stereotypes of what is thought to be representative of Autism and show the world just how broad and beautiful the spectrum is."

This first session was with two beautiful kiddos named Ana and Thomas, and their mom, Dana. I was connected with Dana a few months ago and I began learning all about Ana and Thomas's journey. Thomas is officially on spectrum: ASD and speech apraxia, and Anastasia is developmentally delayed and has hypotonia.

Here is their story in Dana's words:

"I was a first time mom of a beautiful brown eyed boy! He resisted being held and cuddled. Thomas would cry and cry. I knew something was different, always did, and always questioned how he was developing. Thomas had no language, did not call us mama or dada, no names for the cats, nothing. Any sounds he had, he whispered under his breath.

I fought for Thomas' diagnosis like most parents do when you have a child on the spectrum. I was told people on the spectrum don't smile or engage. My child does, both my children do. Thomas' sensory needs have become part of our life, Ana's needs are just emerging. Together Thomas and Ana appear typical until one gets the other going. They run around and play, sometimes copying each others sounds, or movements. 

From extreme sensory eating issues to rigid routines, my husband and I feel as though we have been doing this for a lifetime. We struggle day to day, never knowing what will set our son off, or how his day will go.

We often go to bed wondering how we will do it, but everyday we do it all again. I wouldn't change anything about my son. I wish I could change the world, show them how important acceptance and socialization are. I wish they could see that one small interaction can really help a person on the spectrum.

One day I would love for my family to start a social group bringing "typical " people in touch with all ages of people on the spectrum. I want everyone to know that people on the spectrum are just like you and me, just sometimes they like their shirts tucked in, or well done chicken nuggets, or forget where they put their toys or keys, or maybe they have a hard time falling asleep, or are shy about saying hi, and just don't have the right words to start a conversation.

These seem like pretty typical things, but sometimes a person on the spectrum is excluded because of them. I want other families to know that its okay to be different, and to fight for those differences."

Dana wrote that she wanted this session because "I want my children to have a special moment, where images of them tell a story of two children that did not fit "typical" or ASD. Their story may help another family - the story of a child that started at 1% of his peers and has persevered and done things that paperwork said he could not do. Thomas opened our eyes. We were scared for him, but now we know what to do for his sister  (she is also blowing us away). I envision my children being in the photographer's face, inquiring about everything until they get comfortable enough and are just in their element. I picture a new perspective of autism. A picture is worth a thousand words."

I spent just over an hour with this beautiful family in their home on Long Island. We played with Play Doh, had snacks, watched a little of the movie "Sing", Thomas showed me some of his toy sharks, and Ana was fearless jumping on her new beanbag pillow. 

I hope these images fulfill Dana's wish of documenting just how amazing her kids are. 

If you are interested in a Spectrum Inspired session, you can apply for a session here.

And finally, their story in images and video:

Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer or lifestyle videographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family, small business or event, please contact her for more information.